Alaskan youth testifies on the Hill — and draws Limbaugh's ire

WASHINGTON — Charlee Lockwood has never heard of Rush Limbaugh or listened to his radio program, and perhaps it's just as well.

On Monday, the talk radio king told listeners that Democrats were exploiting the 18-year-old Yupik Eskimo, and that her emotional testimony that day in front of a U.S. House committee on global warming made him "really want to puke. I just want to throw up."

"It's the Democrats exploiting a young child, ladies and gentlemen, for the advancement of a political issue that will grow the size of government and increase their control over everyone," Limbaugh told listeners of the 600 stations nationwide that carry his show.

Lockwood didn't let Limbaugh's comments faze her. Her upbringing in the community of St. Michael included learning "about respect and treating people the way you want to be treated," Lockwood said, during a brief interview just before she got on a plane to return to her village on Alaska's west coast.

And she had plenty of people willing to defend her.

"For Rush Limbaugh to make fun of young people coming in and trying to be a part of the political process, it really shows a disdain for political discourse and for the role of young people in that political discourse," said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for the chairman of the committee, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Limbaugh's attack on the teenager was "outrageous and grotesque," said Deborah Williams, an Anchorage environmentalist who accompanied Lockwood on the teen's first trip to the nation's capital in 2005. It's one thing to take aim at a public figure, Williams said, but it's quite another to attack someone young and eager to participate in the democratic process.

"I know Charlee really quite well and she is her own person," Williams said. "She got involved in this because she feels a big moral commitment to protect her community. She is passionate about this issue, and she has so much invested in this issue."

Lockwood was among 5,000 teens and young adults who descended on Washington Monday in what may have been the biggest lobbying day ever on energy and climate issues. Ten other young people from Alaska attended the event, through Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.

Organizers described the Washington gathering, known as Power Shift 2007, as "the first national youth summit to solve the climate crisis."

Lockwood, who hopes to study to be a health aide in rural Alaska, has already become something of a veteran environmental activist. She traveled to Washington two years ago to deliver 5,000 signatures from fellow Alaska high school students who sought to draw attention to the effects of global warming in the state.

On Monday, she and other students met with a staffer in Alaska Rep. Don Young's office, and with both of Alaska's senators, Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens.

Stevens hadn't listened to the Limbaugh program Monday afternoon, although an aide burned a CD for him to listen to later at home. The senator had no comment on the program, said Aaron Saunders, a spokesman for Stevens.

The young people from Alaska spent about an hour Monday engaged in a "lively and frank conservation about climate change and global warming" with Stevens, Saunders said.

The senator and the students weren't in total agreement, Saunders said. Stevens has repeatedly questioned the causes of global warming, but acknowledges that climate change has had a disastrous effect on the state's remote villages. Last month, Stevens accompanied the chairwoman of the Disaster Recovery subcommittee, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to Shishmaref to survey the damage from coastal erosion.

On Monday, Lockwood offered an eloquent description of the effects of global warming on her own village of St. Michael. Moose once walked by the village; now, they've migrated farther north and are rarely seen. There are fewer fish each year at the family's summer fish camp, Lockwood said, and their favorite berry-picking spots aren't producing as much fruit anymore.

"Our traditional ways of life will die like the food we grew up eating, our hunters will have to travel farther to keep food in their homes," she warned in testimony submitted to the committee. "Our culture will die because everyone will have to move someplace and there will be no one to teach them to."